DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE (director/writer: Taika Waititi; screenwriter: book Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump; cinematographer: Lachlan Milne; editors: Luke Haigh, Tom Eagles, Yana Gorskaya; music: Lukasz Pawel Buda/Samuel Scott/Conrad Wedde ; cast: Sam Neill(Hec), Julian Dennison  (Ricky), Rima Te Wiata (Bella), Rachel House (Paula), Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne (Kahu), Oscar Kightley (Andy), Cohen Holloway (Hugh), Stan Walker (Ron), Mike Minogue (Joe), Rhys Darby (Psycho Sam), Taika Waititi (Minister); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Carthew Neal, Leanne Saunders, Taika Waititi, Matt Noonan; Defender Films, Piki Films, Curious; 2016-New Zealand)

"It has too many strained feel-good moments for my comfort zone."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Writer/director Taika Waititi  ("What We Do In The Shadows"/"Boy") bases it on the 1986 novel by Barry Crump, Wild Pork and Watercress. It's told in a conventional style of episodes that are divided into ten chapters and an epilogue. The title comes from the Maori kid identifying the fugitive plight of him and his guardian father to the wildebeests, who are known for their long treks. The coming-of-age dramedy ends with a sentimental happy ending, which piles on the charm as the mismatched mates learn to bond when given the chance.

The Maori fat and obnoxious 12-year-old Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison), a wannabe gangsta, is in a New Zealand detention home for juveniles on a number of petty criminal charges such as graffiti. He's adopted by a white couple, the good-hearted Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and the gruff 60-year-old Hec (Sam Neil), who have a rundown farm near the bush country.  The mean-spirited child welfare worker, Paula (Rachel House), delivers the kid to them and warns that he's a "bad egg." She's assisted delivering the unruly kid by a less hostile police officer (Oscar Kightley). Ricky is a city kid, who is a fan of hip-hop who has no love for country living. But Bella wins him over with unconditional love, while foster dad Hec tolerates him only to satisfy his kindly wife. On Ricky's birthday, the couple give him a dog, and he names it after the late rapper Tupac.
 
It seems the adoption is working out better than expected, but it changes rapidly when Bella unexpectedly dies of a heart attack. The saddened and angry kid burns down the farm house and convinces Hec to bring him along into bush country to flee from the authorities who suspect foul play. A national manhunt goes on for months, and a big reward is offered for Hec. While on-the-run the man and the child bond, despite a few misunderstandings. The kid delights Hec with reading the haiku he writes and the old man teaches the kid how to survive in the wilderness. The most comical moments are reserved for when the fugitives are staying with the long-time bush country survivor fugitive Psycho Sam (
Rhys Darby) in his hideout. While on the run, the fugitives are treated by the locals as folk heroes after saving the life of a park ranger.

T
he boy's adventure story builds off its stale and predictable plot line by being zany, charming, and warm-hearted. But it has too many strained feel-good moments for my comfort zone.

REVIEWED ON 7/24/2016       GRADE: C+

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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